Generosity to spare: Nonprofit helps families cope with large medical bills
Fargo - At a 20-week ultrasound, Adam and Mandi Kaldor found out their third child had spina bifida and Mandi had placenta previa.
“Between myself being in the hospital and Micah being in the hospital after he was born, we were down there six weeks,” Mandi Kaldor said. “We had travel expenses, between my husband and kids traveling back and forth. We obviously had medical bills. Plus I wasn’t working, so we went from two incomes to one.”
A major help for the Kaldor family was a grant from Spare Key, a Minnesota-based nonprofit that will pay one month’s rent or mortgage for families whose children are experiencing a medical crisis, regardless of income.
Spare Key recently surpassed the $20,000 mark for grants made in Cass and Clay counties, said Erich Mische, executive director, helping 23 local families.
The organization was founded in 1997 and since has helped about 2,300 families, granting more than $2.2 million.
It expanded into North Dakota just over a year ago, and now serves four states. It looks to serve an additional seven states by the end of 2015, said Mische, who was in Fargo last week to raise awareness – and funds – for the organization.
“Spare Key, getting that grant from them, was a really big blessing for us,” Kaldor said, noting her family didn’t qualify for other financial assistance programs. “It helped release some of the financial stress.”
The grant is paid directly to the mortgage company or property manager. Families can qualify for a one-month payment every 12 months.
Mische said this helps them stay “laser-focused” during recovery, or in terminal cases, allows families to spend more time with the child.
“I just think that sometimes when you’re going through a situation like that, it’s hard to accept help,” Kaldor said. “We may not think of our family as someone who needs help. We do fine financially. … It was nice we had Spare Key because it really did help.”
Medical emergencies can quickly derail a family’s finances. In addition to medical bills, there are often extra expenses like travel and meals, and a loss of income from time being taken off work.
“It can be huge. It depends on their insurance,” said Lori Eidenschink, a Sanford Children’s social worker.
She walks families through a medical crisis, including the physical services they may need after a hospital stay and the emotional challenges. She also tries to help connect families with programs to ease the financial burden.
Families with no insurance may be eligible for medical assistance. Children who are chronically ill may qualify for Social Security benefits. Sometimes county assistance is available, she said.
For young oncology patients, the National Children’s Cancer Society offers income-based financial assistance, Eidenschink said.
“But honestly what you typically see, if you have a two-parent family, one parent has to go back to work, maintain some normalcy,” she said. “Two parents who are working and have insurance, you’re in a situation where there’s not a lot of options for you.”
If a benefit is planned for a family facing hardship because of serious medical condition, they can apply to Lend A Hand for matching funds, said Jeana Peinovich, program director. Lend A Hand, administered by Dakota Medical Foundation, helps about 50 families a year in Cass and Clay counties, matching up to $5,000 she said.
Ronald McDonald House Charities provides lodging for families whose children are in the hospital, for a $15 suggested donation per night. Community members make donations to the hospital to be used for gift cards or meal tickets, Eidenschink said.
Lisa Durensky said Spare Key was the only program her family could apply for after her son Christopher’s medical issues, though they did receive donations from Bell State Bank and Trust and the Knights of Columbus.
Christopher, now 4½ months, had seizures after he was born due to a blood clot in his brain. He developed hydrocephalus, and a shunt to drain his skull became infected twice. He spent 107 days at Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis.
“If you’re completely unprepared, it would be devastating,” Lisa Durensky said.
Brandyn Ehlis of Fargo said the Spare Key grant his family received after newborn son John developed pulmonary hypertension provided emotional support and mental relief more than anything.
“Even just having one month’s mortgage, it’s just one less thing you have to worry about when you have something like that going on,” Ehlis said.